Three leaders in southern Sandoval County agree that legislation removing caps on damages awarded in lawsuits involving law enforcement could bankrupt local governments.
They plan to oppose such bills in the upcoming legislative session.
The Sandoval County manager and mayors of Rio Rancho, Corrales and Bernalillo spoke on legislative priorities and funding requests at the Sandoval Economic Alliance virtual quarterly “luncheon” Wednesday.
The county commission and Rio Rancho Governing Body hadn’t voted on their priorities and requests until the next day, so those presented weren’t official. Corrales’ and Bernalillo’s were approved.
County Manager Wayne Johnson said he wanted police and governments held accountable, but removal of qualified immunity could hurt the taxpayers.
“We could end up in a position where there are uncapped awards going to individuals,” meaning less money for services like roads and police, he said.
Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull said the city likewise opposes frivolous lawsuits and uncapped damage awards involving police. The city supports a statewide law enforcement committee to identify best practices, giving more authority to the Law Enforcement Academy Board in disciplinary matters and removing impediments to police discipline laid out in outdated union agreements.
Another city legislative priority is supporting mental health resources that help public-safety personnel help people in crisis.
Bernalillo Mayor Jack Torres said his town’s government also opposes the recommendations from the state civil rights committee.
“Our belief is we are ripe for reform, but what’s been proposed takes us down the wrong path,” he said.
Torres and the town governing body believe the recommendations won’t help bad behavior, but will hurt communities financially. Instead, they support better training and continuing education for officers, as well as more mental health resources.
Corrales Mayor JoAnne Roake didn’t mention qualified immunity or lawsuits. She discussed similarities and differences in concerns.
Roake, Torres and Hull listed priorities of allowing retired government employees to return to work in certain fields and still receive their pensions.
Hull said the city wants retired law enforcement officers to be able to work in schools without losing retirement pay. Torres said his town needs more police officers, firefighters and certified water and wastewater system operators, and retirees could help.
When it came to funding requests, Johnson said Sandoval County may ask for money for Paseo del Volcan, an animal shelter, body cameras for the sheriff’s office, Americans with Disabilities Act features in the complex it’s building and broadband internet service.
“In this connectivity world we have right now, broadband is almost like air,” he said.
Torres also listed money for information technology as a priority, along with support for the wastewater system, a community museum, park improvements and restoration of a historic flour mill.
For proposed Rio Rancho funding priorities, Hull named a replacement basketball court, Esther Bone Memorial Library roof repairs, fire station improvements, work on the climate-control system at the police department, roadwork and sidewalks.
One of the Corrales funding requests is for more fire hydrants.
“Because we are on wells, fire is a huge danger for us,” Roake said.
She said the village also is asking for money to finish a trail and improve municipal parking lots.
“We really need an animal trailer, because people keep losing their cows,” she said.
Corrales animal services workers need to be able to remove wandering animals from roads.
It’s unclear how much money will be available for those requests.